The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a Must-Watch Fantasy Epic
October 16, 2019 | By Calvary Dominique
The very fact that The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, a ten-hour, puppet-based fantasy epic unrelenting in its attention to detail and world-building excellence, even exists would have been mind-boggling not all that long ago. It’s larger than life in almost every way — from the first scene, it’s crystal-clear (pun intended) that millions of dollars went into its budget, and it uses this money well. And yet, as a show that dropped on Netflix without much buzz, it’s so oddly understated, content to just exist, fully confident that it will find the audience it deserves.
Photo Courtesy of Netflix
If you’re not someone with a penchant for high fantasy, the series may be a bit inaccessible at some points, but it doesn’t seem all too interested in winning skeptics over. You’re either on board, or you’re not. Critics might view this as somewhat self-indulgent, and in a sense, they wouldn’t be far off. It’s one of those shows that relishes in its over-the-top nature.
Some of it feels almost like a creative fever dream, or an experiment in which you gave an imaginative kid a large budget, a huge canvas, and some puppets to go wild, to pull no punches, to have pure, unadulterated fun without restraint. But it works.
This show, a prequel to famed puppeteer and the Muppets creator Jim Henson’s 1982 cult classic film, currently sits at an 86% Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes and carries a 94% average audience score. It’s visually stunning, delightfully bizarre, and spectacularly creepy in all the right ways. It’s super colorful and vibrant, calling to mind movies like Avatar. The show is perfectly suited for streaming culture in 2019, and it honestly wouldn’t even exist without it, for it offers a niche but highly devoted fandom luxuries beyond their wildest dreams. It’s designed to be consumed fully, for you to be transported into another world with total abandon. Its success also serves as a sign that Netflix will take risks on other similar projects in the future.
My first thought when I began watching was, “Wow, this is such a great time to be a nerd!” Once upon a time, nerds were made fun of for loving “odd things” like superheroes, lightsabers, elves, wizards, and aliens. While this still happens occasionally today, nerd culture is culture (maybe in part because many of the so-called “nerds” who were made fun of for liking sci-fi and fantasy are now in charge of decision-making). While not everyone will get it, there are enough people out there who fall into this broad category that not only will get it, but will continue to support it, and as long as that support is there, this era will continue.
This show exists in a post-Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones world — two fantasy sagas it has been compared to. It involves all the familiar fantasy tropes, including swords of magic, exciting quests through enchanted lands, large palaces, evil monsters, and brave young heroes. The Dark Crystal prequel also draws upon viewers’ nostalgia for the 80s, as evidenced by the continued popularity of shows like Stranger Things and movies remakes such as IT (2017).
The show’s plot centers around three brave young Gelflings (innocent elf-like creatures), Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy), Rian (Taron Egerton), and Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel). Together, they come to realize the dark truth behind their planet Thra and decide to fight to overthrow their corrupt vulture-like reptilian overlords, the Skeksis. These manipulative beings have been entrusted with watching over the Crystal of Truth — the beating heart of Thra — but they want to use it for evil. If they get their way, destruction will ensue, so a revolution is vital. But the Skeksis, power-hungry to the core and clothed with flowing robes and shiny jewels, will stop at nothing to stamp out this rebellion — and resort to violence. All of this makes it surprisingly dark and graphic for a TV-PG rated puppet show, but it works. This is a show complete with adventure, humor, magic, action, and even romance! You root for the young heroes to be victorious, despite knowing that, because this is a prequel, it can’t end in happiness.
Although voiced by a talented cast — including Helena-Bonham Carter, Mark Hammill, and Bill Hader, to name a few — it’s the puppets who are the real stars of the show. Given the extent of modern technology, The Dark Crystal could have easily made the choice to update itself with CGI, but it made a bold choice to stick with the spirit of Henson’s original vision and use puppets. This gives the show a creepy, unsettling feeling reminiscent of the YouTube series Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared. The puppets don’t always work here, but when they do, it’s glorious.